created by the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council
Activities for Transforming Teams
and Igniting Change
ATTIC is a collection of tools, games, and activities to inspire innovation, teamwork and engagement in health care settings.

Extreme Empathy

What is empathy? IDEO defines it as “the ability to be aware of, understanding of, and sensitive to another person’s feelings and thoughts without having had the same experience.” Empathy experiences are critical because they help us move beyond our own biases and assumptions. While we can never truly understand another’s experience, by taking part in an empathy experience we can better understand another person’s perspective

  • 30
  • 2
    • Veterinarian wrap or tensor bandages
    • Sunglasses coated in Vaseline
    • Earplugs
  • Source: Adapted from IDEO

What to do

  1. Each pair of participants requires one of the items from the required tools per pair.
  2. Just before a coffee or lunch break, organize people into pairs.
  3. Invite pairs to choose one of the items from the empathy experience supplies to have one of the pair:
    • Use wrap or bandages to limit mobility,
    • Wear sunglasses to limit vision, or
    • Insert ear plugs to limit hearing.
  4. Invite empathy experience participants to get a coffee or have a conversation with their limited mobility, vision or hearing.
  5. Invite the partner to act as an observer to note what they see during their partner’s experience, specifically considering:
    • What are they doing?
    • How are they doing it?
    • Why are they doing it that way? Take a guess!
  6. After about 15 minutes, invite participants to remove their bandages, glasses or ear plugs.
  7. Provide pairs with five minutes to discuss what they experienced and observed.
  8. Debrief with the group.


  • For those of you who participated in the extreme empathy experience, what was it like for you?
    • Did you gain a different understanding from the experience?
  • For those of you who observed the extreme empathy experience, what did you notice?
    • What were they doing?
    • How were they doing it?
    • Why were they doing it that way?
  • How could you apply this type of activity in the work that you do?
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